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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Time to Speak Up; Time to Speak Out

Unfortunately it seems I have ruffled a feather or two in the bowfishing community, and the issue has become so intense with some, that after consulting with a few trusted outdoor media colleagues and my legal advisors, the general consensus was that the best course of action was to simply speak up and speak out and then walk away from the fray.

On April 24th  of this year the following announcement was made by Ed DeVries, President of Bowfishing Association of Illinois:


Starting April 2015 bowfishers will be allowed to take a 6 fish limit of channel cat from the Illinois   River between the starved rock dam and Dresden dam.

Now bowfishers will be able to harvest another fish that are excellent on the table thanks to the IDNR and the efforts of your BAI! Currently channel cats are a commercial fish that can be caught on trot line, bank pole, hook and line and now by bowfishing. Very cool news!”

After reading the announcement I sent the following message to Mr. DeVries via Facebook’s messaging system:

Gretchen Steele

Truthfully Ed, I don't support the catfish. I see too many people that do not know the difference between a channel cat, a blue or flathead. If they can't tell the difference between them on a jug or trot line or pole and line, I doubt that they will be able to tell the difference in the water. The commercial fishermen in this area will likely fight it. They are struggling for decent catch numbers now. They aren't anti bowfishing by any means, they just are unlikely to support adding another method to take cats from a population that's already starting to dwindle down. I know this is just an area that we will have to agree to disagree, good luck with the pilot program - I hope that it proves my concerns wrong.

After researching the announced rule change and program with DNR I discovered that BAI had only sent the proposal to DNR and that no rule change had been made, nor had it been placed on the regulatory agenda for consideration.

I wrote about the proposal in my blog at Heartland Outdoors. You may read that blog entry HERE.

Following that post Mr. DeVries began, for lack a of a better term, a well documented  smear campaign that included calling for boycotts of publications that publish my work and their advertisers, calling for my immediate removal from the various pro staff positions I hold etc. As time went on the campaign became increasingly defamatory both personally and professionally.

I chose to simply ignore the situation, as that seemed to me to be the best and most professional choice.  As the old adage says, “Don’t feed the trolls.”  Thankfully the bulk of the incessant ranting and raving has been largely ignored and limited to primarily internet sites, social media and internet forums. More thankfully, my sponsors, publishers, editors and the companies I Pro Staff for simply laughed it off and continue to do so.

Then on Friday May 6th I received a request from Mr, DeVries for an e mail interview, with an attached list of questions that ranged from disingenuous at best to bordering on threatening demands at worst.

I respectfully declined his request based on several factors; the history of the defamatory campaign against me personally and professionally, there was no vetting or credentialing of Mr. DeVries as a journalist provided, and it’s truly a non issue at this point. The proposal is merely a proposal on a desk at DNR. It’s old news. It’s 15 minutes of fame has come and gone.  If and when it the proposal is placed on the regulatory agenda and sent to the rules committee I will revisit the issue as outdoor media; but until then I consider it a non issue.

However Mr. DeVries chose to follow up my denial of the request with an overtly adversarial and threatening email that compelled me to provide the whole mess to my legal advisor.

While I can’t imagine that anyone finds my opinion all that noteworthy, compelling, or influential. Contrary to Mr. DeVries claims that I am afraid to speak up; I am not afraid to share my opinion.I just saw no reason to engage in some childish internet based flaming war, nor provide an interview to someone who has repeatedly misquoted me, and made blatantly untrue claims about me. I fully expect to find cut and pasted excerpts of this post used in more of the ridiculous claims being made by BAI. So here we are – here’s how I feel regarding the BAI proposal to allow bowfishing for channel catfish with a daily creel limit of six between Starved Rock Dam and Dresden Dam.

I am not “100% against bowfishing for catfish” as has been reported. However, I do not and will not support the proposal as it is written. I feel that by making it specific to channel catfish this opens up the door for the possibility of accidental violations when bowfishers inadvertently arrow a different species of catfish. I see too many cases of people incorrectly identifying catfish, and feel it could be difficult for the average recreational bowfisher to always correctly identify the specific catfish species.

I also feel that limited area of the pilot program waters is insufficient to determine it’s effect on the catfish population statewide. Perhaps a better choice would be to also have pilot or test programs in several bodies of water throughout the entire state, along with creel surveys so that DNR can determine exactly how many catfish are being taken by bowfishers, along with all other anglers who take catfish.

By choosing only that body of water, it could give the appearance of favoring northern Illinois over southern, causing more feelings of abandonment by anglers and bowfishers who reside in southern Illinois. It creates more ill will and feelings of division between southern and northern Illinois, and frankly there’s enough of that already.

I think that this could well be a precedent setting rule change that could open up the door for further proposals to allow bowfishing for additional species that are currently considered game or sport fish.

I think that bowfishing for catfish could be feasible in specific waters at specific times, but this is a decision that should be made with input from all user groups including commercial fishermen, bowfishermen, pole and line anglers, netters, etc. after a careful study of the overall health of the catfish populations and input from regional fisheries biologists.

I think that all user groups must be willing to discuss the issue openly, constructively, civilly, and be willing to make good faith concessions in effort to find a solution palatable to all.

Lastly, I am not anti hunting, anti bowfishing, or anything of sort. I am however a conservationist first and bowfisher second.

I am saddened that this post even had to be made. In my gut I still feel that I shouldn't feed the trolls so to speak, but I realize that my silence only allows this to continue and could possibly be construed that the claims made are true.

It saddens me that any single person or organization that is supposed to represent the bowfishing community can create such a controversy and adversarial situation that it causes division among our ranks.

So there you have it – That’s how I feel about the bowfishing for catfish proposal, despite what you may hear, read, or see being put forth by any detractors.

With that said – Let’s all just go fishing (by whatever method you prefer) and forget about this proposal until such time it is placed on the regulatory agenda and sent to rules committee. It truly is much ado about nothing at this juncture.


  1. Gretchen,
    First off I applaud you for standing up for yourself and asking questions about potential regulations.
    It’s a shame that Mr. DeVries chose to view it as a personal attack rather than a well worded question.

    I get the impression that he is of the “old school” mentality, the older generation of sexists in the outdoor industry. He obviously saw your question on a public social media site as an opportunity to create a “Big Bad Wolf” in an attempt to divert attention from the real issue.

    He is obviously taking your very existence as a personal affront and feels the need to “put this woman in her place” by launching an obvious and pitiful smear campaign, his words are extremely condescending and unprofessional.

    His interpretation of the law is obviously clouded and he should be very, very careful what he posts, there are very strict slander, defamation and copyright laws that he (even implied) could potentially be breaking – which is actionable.

    Good for you for standing up against his bully tactics by declining his request to “interview you” by email (who even does that anymore????). By even requesting the interview by email he is letting you know he doesn’t even take you seriously enough to pick up a phone.

    To be honest with you, I would not put much stock in his threats, as with most bullies, their bark is worse than their bite and 90% of all people will see right through his façade. The other 10% are not people you would want as readers anyhow.

    Again, good for you for standing up for what you believe in by asking a well thought out and well worded question.

    It’s just a shame that one man doesn’t have enough confidence in his proposed regulation change to actually answer it succinctly and without negativity.

  2. Thank you Carrie for taking the time to make such a well thought and reasonable reply. I am all for civil discussion on the issue from all concerned anglers, but let's discuss facts, science, data - not start flaming internet wars and smear campaigns among ourselves. That serves zero purpose in the end and only makes those pulling such shenanigans look foolish, unprofessional, and should make one seriously question their leadership abilities.